As the son and grandson of a pastor, Hyun-Geun Moon grew up frequently having to lend a hand at his family’s church in the sunny South Korean city of Daegu. Eighteen years ago, he moved to Berlin to study classical double-bass under a music professor he’d met on a holiday in the city a few months earlier. In contrast to his hometown, he loved Berlin’s foggy weather and being alone, even if people noticed him on the street and, in the case of one old woman, had racist concerns about him eating her dog. “What you need to know about me is that I never really wanted to become a pastor,” he says at his Charlottenburg home, where his wife Yu-Jin Chung seamlessly translates his Korean into English. “I wanted to support the church with the money that I earned as a musician.” Life, it seems, had other plans. In 2007, the senior pastor of Moon’s church, the Ju Chan Yang Presbyterian in Spandau, revealed he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and asked the young ambitious Christian to consider replacing him. Moon had his doubts. He’d seen his family give everything – emotionally and financially – to the church. But after six months of deliberation, he set his mind to his new path and left to study theology in Korea. “Normally it requires 10 years of work as a vicar to become a senior pastor.” But, with only seven years of training in Korea under his belt, the 42-year-old returned to Berlin to take the reins of his church in 2017. “I became a pastor very early”, he notes.
Christianity is widespread in South Korea and Presbyterianism is the most influential denomination of all. Hyun-Geun – who estimates there are about 30 Korean churches in Berlin – doesn’t think of himself as “the stereotypical Korean pastor”. He is not the type of leader to simply repeat the messages of more senior pastors, and he rather enjoys socialising outside of the church community. His marriage to German-born Yu-Jin is also a little untraditional, as pastor’s wives usually don’t work. The energetic and eloquent 39-year-old is a driven German teacher who teaches online courses for the popular Siwonschool, well-known in Korea for their YouTube ads. “I have friends who don’t go to church, and who would never consider the life I lead for themselves,” she admits with a smile. But Moon’s approximately 80 parishioners seem to enjoy his modern, accessible sermon style. During Sunday service, he is friendly and relaxed with everyone, greeting familiar faces and shaking hands. A group of children comes to the front bearing a cake to celebrate the church’s 38th birthday. Afterwards everyone eats like kings, taking seconds from tables of home-cooked Korean food. Despite a gruelling schedule, Moon says he never regrets his decision to lead the church. He hopes his congregation take what they learn at the Korean services and serve the wider Berlin community. And, though he’s got two young daughters and a church to think about, there is one Berlin tradition he still yearns to experience. “I would like to go clubbing,” he laughs, “I am so curious about it!”